Aliquippa beats Freeport, inches closer to WPIAL title game
Aliquippa has its eyes focused on making the WPIAL title game for an 11th straight season, and it moved a step closer Friday at Ambridge’s Moe Rubenstein Stadium.
Led by Avante McKenzie’s 102 yards and five rushing touchdowns on 17 carries, the No. 1 Quips (10-1) held off an early push from No. 8 Freeport and captured a 40-17 victory in a WPIAL Class 3A first-round game.
“We’re trying to get to the WPIAL (finals) and to Hershey,” McKenzie said. “We’re taking it one game at a time and will prepare one game at a time.
“It’s playoff time, so its one-and-done. We had that mindset of ‘We don’t want to go home early.’ ”
The win was Aliquippa’s fourth over Freeport in as many seasons. The Quips also topped the Yellowjackets in the playoffs in 2015 and scored regular-season victories the past two years.
“This is the playoffs, and any win is a good win,” Aliquippa coach Michael Warfield said.
“We’re moving on to the next one. We have to come prepared each game. If we don’t, we’ll get beat. You saw that last week (against Central Valley).”
Aliquippa will face conference rival and No. 4 Beaver Falls in the semifinals next Friday at a site and time to be determined. The Tigers beat No. 5 Elizabeth Forward, 33-14.
Freeport (5-5) came out swinging offensively and delivered an initial blow. A 34-yard pass completion from Patrick Keeley to Austin Romanchak gave the Yellowjackets a first-and-goal at the Aliquippa 2.
Despite moving backward on the next three plays, Ricky Hunter gave Freeport the lead with a 27-yard field goal.
“At this point, it’s a new season, and everyone’s good,” Warfield said.
“Freeport did a good job moving the ball early, but we were able to make a few adjustments. We just played our game after that, and things worked out for us.”
Aliquippa answered on its first drive and moved the ball from its own 45 to the Yellowjackets’ 3 in 11 plays. McKenzie finished with a 2-yard scoring plunge. Daniel Elmore’s exctra point made it 7-3.
The score stayed that way until 4 minutes, 21 seconds remained in the first half. A Freeport punt returned 14 yards by MJ Devonshire put the Quips at the Yellowjackets’ 29.
William Gipson gained 16 yards on three carries to move the ball to the 18, and three plays later, McKenzie scored on an 8-yard run. The PAT kick failed, and Aliquippa owned a 13-3 advantage.
Aliquippa added two scores late in the second quarter as it stuffed a Freeport fake punt attempt and got an interception of Romanchak from Larry Walker.
McKenzie finished added scoring runs of 19 and 9 yards as the Quips went into the half ahead 34-3.
“They have so many weapons, and once things started clicking for them, it was almost like there was no stopping them,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “We threw everything we could at them. Aliquippa is just a very well-coached and athletic team.”
McKenzie ran 25 yards for his fifth touchdown with 8:01 left in the third quarter to make it 34-3, and the Quips started playing substitutes.
Vernon Redd scored for Aliquippa with a 49-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Conor Selinger tallied a pair of 5-yard TD runs in the fourth and finished with 21 carries for 88 yards.
The Quips got 194 yards passing from Eli Kosanovich, and eight of his 14 completions went to William Gipson for 131 yards.
Devonshire was injured on a collision while returning a punt in the third quarter. He remained on the turf for a couple of minutes before walking off the field with assistance. Warfield said Devonshire was OK.
Freeport started its season 0-3 before winning five straight, all in conference play, to clinch a playoff spot.
“We were pretty physical (Friday), and I am proud of the way the guys played from the first snap to the last,” Gaillot said.